Every three years…..no, wait, it’s been four years now. Looks like Bud Selig is trying to make the years in between World Baseball Classic’s form a Fibonacci Sequence, in which case, he’s doing it wrong. Silly Bud. Either way, it’s that time of, uh, decade again where countries from all over the world send their best players to compete for a chance to play in the finals in California (Seriously, It’s been hosted in San Diego, Los Angeles and now San Francisco. Who did Ahnold and now Jerry Brown have to slay to make this happen?). Currently, the WBC is the only International Baseball Federation (IBAF) sanctioned tournament of its kind (Until next year When the discontinued World Baseball Cup’s two off shoots, the 21 and Under Cup and the IBAF Premier 12, have their inaugural tournaments in 2014 and 2015 respectively). Competitive baseball will be back early this year with the March tournament, and people around the world are elated, jubilant, overjoyed……well, at least in Latin and Asian countries they are. In America, most people don’t seem to care. That includes yours truly.
In 2006, I had some interest in the Classic. I thought it would be fun to watch players who are considered the absolute best of the best compete for bragging rights as the top country in the world. Countries with established professional leagues were sending superstar teams into battle, and countries with a burgeoning interest in baseball were sending whatever warm bodies they could fit into a uniform. Interest quickly faded for me though. The separation between the top teams (Japan, Cuba, etc.) and the bottom teams (South Africa, Panama, etc.) was wider than the divide between my income and that of the CEO living down the street. Blowout games are not my type of games, even if it’s the Angels on the winning end. I’d much rather see a hard fought pitcher’s duel or a back and forth slugfest. But, with no more Olympic baseball, this is all we really have.
For those of you who missed it, Olympic baseball (along with softball) was voted out of Olympic play before the 2012 games. The first such occurrence since polo was voted out in 1936. That’s right, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ranks baseball in the same category as a sport that looks like croquet being played on horseback. Those wacky Europeans. Maybe holding onto all of my pogs and slammers will prove useful when that becomes an Olympic sport in 2040.
Aside from the Grand Canyon-like competitive divide, my biggest issue with the WBC is timing. When the WBC kicks off in March, mandatory full squad workouts will have only been going on for three weeks. Special pitching rules had to be put in place (a la the Little League World Series) to protect pitchers arms, which affects Latin teams since their seasons ended only a couple of months ago. So, to recap (just for the sake of recapping) I am not a fan of the WBC’s timing, rules, someone’s inability to schedule it on years that show a precise pattern, and the need to rely on “star power” to make the whole thing work. You with me so far? Good.
With the release of the rosters yesterday, I sat in silent worry throughout most of the morning. It had been reported that Mike Trout had already said he wasn’t going to participate in this year’s installment, and that made this guy a very happy camper. But, just because it had been reported that he had said no, doesn’t mean that he wasn’t still mulling over the chance to participate. Would Mike Trout make the US team eons better? Is water wet? Trout will hopefully come into Spring Training this year however 100% healthy and ready to get into baseball shape. He’s tapered off each of the last two seasons just as he got to the stretch run. I don’t know what Mike’s offseason workout regimen is like (of course, being able to reel in a 550 lb. grouper is a good sign that he isn’t weakening), but I would like to see him performing in September (and, fingers crossed, October) the same way he was performing in June and July. If foregoing the Classic, and going through a regular Spring Training is how he gets there, so much the better.
Another Angels player who was rumored to be participating was Albert Pujols. The Machine is coming off a season in which all of his numbers trended down again thanks to a particularly rough month of April. Earlier in the offseason Pujols had minor arthroscopic knee surgery. But according to Pujols’ agent in this article, Albert was still intending on participating in this year’s Classic. Cue the blockquote:
"Feels great so far." Asked if Pujols will play for his home country, barring an unforeseen setback, Lozano said: "At this point, yes."
According to this article from the team’s website though, it will probably keep him out of the classic. Recommence blockquote:
Classic officials aren't expected to insure Pujols due to strict guidelines pertaining to players who underwent offseason surgery. Playing an event like this uninsured is too great a risk for the player and for his club, and it's something the Major League Baseball Players Association probably wouldn't approve of anyway.
Phew. I would rather not spend a few weeks in March worrying about our extremely rich first baseman and his health while he played for another team. And “minor surgery” feels like a propagandic statement, I’m sure that I am not the only one that remembers watching him hobble his way around the bases towards the end of last year.
As it were, the Angels aren’t going to be heading into Spring Training games 100% intact. Erick Aybar is going to be suiting up for the Dominican Republic, but will most likely be playing the back up to Jose Reyes. Because Jose Reyes is better and Jose Reyes also brings “star power.” So, Aybar is in, but probably won’t see much action, tell me again how this good for him heading into the regular season? Our pint size short stop who stuffs more chew into his mouth than any other human being gets paid a great deal of money to play for our team. Is the draw of playing for your home country that strong that a player would rather not get the same amount of work in that he normally would had he stayed with the club he is contracted to for those three weeks?
Maybe I really am in the minority with my dislike for the Classic as it is right now. Maybe it is just me who isn’t thrilled to see a US team that, in year’s past, has been filled to the brim with primadonna’s. It is also possible that, just like in 2009, I give the WBC another chance and this time it reels me in. For some fans, it’s a chance to watch competitive baseball for the first time since October. For some fans, as fellow LAAI contributor Scotty Allen said to me in an email recently, it’s about taking pride in your country and pulling for those three letters that are emblazoned across the front of whatever country it is you are rooting for’s jersey (I paraphrase). For those of you who this last paragraph applies to, good for you and I mean that with the utmost sincerity, far be it for me to take that away from you. Just know that I fall into the category of people who the rest of this post applies too. Will I come around one day and learn to enjoy the WBC? I’m not ruling it out. I love this game, and I love watching each pitch, each out and each inning unfold. Just don’t expect me to like the Classic this year.